Washington’s Grand March

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WASHINGTON’S GRAND MARCH. AKA and see “General Washington's March (1),” “President’s New March (The).” American, March (2/4 or 4/4 time). USA; southwestern Pa., New Hampshire. G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB (Bayard): ABC (Miller) AABBCC (Keller/Bush, Mattson & Walz). The melody appears to stem from the period of George Washington’s presidency, and it may be associated with the office as it was published in 1796 as "New President's March." Despite assumptions that “Washington’s Grand March” was composed for his inauguration in 1789, the earliest published version was by Glasgow publisher James Aird in his Selections of Scotch, English Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 3, (1788), and predates Washington's taking office. Keller (1992) believes it was in circulation in America prior to even Aird’s publication. Linscott (1939) calls it one of New England’s favorite tunes for beginning the country dance. Although there were numerous “Washington’s March” it is perhaps this popular tune that was the “Washington’s March” played by U.S. President John Tyler, reputedly a good fiddler. Like many good airs, the melody was adapted to shape note hymns of the 19th century.

The melody (as “Washington’s March”) is in the music manuscript copybook of Henry Livingston, Jr. Livingston purchased the estate of Locust Grove, Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1771 at the age of 23. In 1775 he was a Major in the 3rdNew York Regiment, which participated in Montgomery’s invasion of Canada in a failed attempt to wrest Montreal from British control. An important land-owner in the Hudson Valley, and a member of the powerful Livingston family, Henry was also a surveyor and real estate speculator, an illustrator and map-maker, and a Justice of the Peace for Dutchess County, New York. He was also a poet and musician, and presumably a dancer, as he was elected a Manager for the New York Assembly’s dancing season of 1774–1775, along with his 3rd cousin, John Jay, later U.S. Chief Justice of Governor of New York. “Washington’s Grand March” also appears in numerous other American musicians’ manuscripts of the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th. It was included in the music copybooks of John Curtiss (1800, Cheshire, Conn.), James Hosmer (1799, East Hartford, Conn.), H. Canfield (Hartford, 1823), the Bellamy band (1799, Hartford), Daniel Henry Huntington (1817, Onondaga, N.Y.), Luther Kingsley (1795-1815, Mansfield, Conn.), George White (c. 1790–1830, Cherry Valley, New York) and Morris Woodruff (1803, Litchfield, Conn.).

Researcher Chris Goertzen found the tune mentioned in an account of a Texas pioneer, a "rough-hewn and loquacious polymath" named Gideon Lincecum (1793-1874), who found himself in an impromptu picnic in 1835 in Eagle Lake, some 35 miles west of Houston, when he chanced to meet a group on an outing. Accompanying the party was an African-American with a violin, and as the food and blankets were being unloaded he was bid to fetch his instrument. Lincecum was himself a fiddler, sans instrument, and eagerly helped himself to it:

Seeing the violin case thrown out amongst their pots and blankets, and not having had one in my hands for months, I was hungry for music. I opened the case and found a splendid violin in excellent condition. I took it out, and going near to two or three ladies, said "some of you were telling a new comer what the wild man could do. With this good violin I will furnish you with a little story that will bear telling as long as you live." I performed "Washington's Grand March" so loud that I could distinctly hear the tune repeated as it returned from the echo on the opposite lake shore. I could feel that my soul mingled with the sound of the instrument, and, at the time I was about to become so entranced as to be unfit for such jovial company; the handsome lady ran up and, slapping me on the shoulder, exclaimed, "Good heavens, Doctor! Where are you going?" I was startled, and training [tuning?] up performed Gen Harrison's March, the Hail Columbia nad then the No. 1 cotillion in the beggar set. [Quoted in Goertzen, Southern Fiddlers and Fiddle Contests, 2007, p.].

Printed American versions appear in Daniel Steele’s New and Complete Preceptor for the German Flute (Utica, N.Y., 1815), John Ashton’s New and Complete Preceptor for the Clarionet (Boston, 1825), Firth and Hall’s Newly Improved Instructor for the Clarinet (New York, 1832), and Elias Howe's Musician's Omnibus (Boston).

Source for notated version: Smith Paine (Wolfeboro, N.H.) [Linscott]; Hiram Horner (fifer from Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, Pa., 1060) [Bayard]; the manuscript collection of Captain George Bush (1753?–1797), a fiddler and officer in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War [Keller].

Printed sources: Aird (Selection of Scotch, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 3), 1788, No. 557. Bayard (Dance to the Fiddle), 1981; No. 366, p. 359. Howe (Diamond School for the Violin), 1861; p. 25. Keller (Fiddle Tunes from the American Revolution), 1992; p. 23. Linscott (Folk Songs of Old New England), 1939; p. 81. Mattson & Walz (Old Fort Snelling: Instruction Book for the Fife), 1974; p. 88. Miller (Fiddler's Throne), 2004; No. 359, p. 209. Riley (Flute Melodies, vol. 1), 1814; No. 83, p. 21.

Recorded sources:

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